by Valerie Morales
On November 15, 1965 an off-Broadway satirical dramedy triggered a nuanced discussion. What would happen if an oppressed group just vanished? How would their oppressor function in their absence?
The play Day of Absence written by Douglas Turner Ward had folks aflutter. A southern [racist] town woke up with black people having disappeared. Gone. Vanished. Naturally, it created chaos. Where were the maids? The help? Shoes needed to be polished. Shrimp and grits needed to be on breakfast plates, sopped up with cornbread. White kids had school learning. Dishes had to be washed. Who was going to mow the lawn? Who was going to launder the sheets, plait and ribbon braids, clean out the gutters?
There was a scene in Day of Absence in which a white cop loses his mind because he has no black men to assault. A member of the KKK can’t take credit for the black people disappearing and he’s annoyed. He wanted to take credit for their exile.
The play seemed to warn racists: be careful what you wish for because when it is delivered there will be a reckoning.
And then 55 years after Day of Absence premiered in NYC, women in Mexico, oppressed by gender violence, rape, abuse, and misogyny staged their very own Day of Absence. It happened on Monday. All women disappeared. They didn’t go to work. They didn’t shop. They didn’t participate in their public lives. It was a feminist protest but unlike the play Day of Absence, no one in Mexico was laughing; it wasn’t a dramedy.
Far from it. Women pushed to the precipice of their own anger and sanity went to extreme lengths to get their countrymen’s attention. Sometimes not showing up is a reminder of your value and worth. Finally, you are noticed.
The women’s strike was called 9M or March 9th, or on social media #UnDiaSinMujeres. The purpose was to create economic hardship, if just for one day, so the country could know the hurt of their daughters. The country’s hurt would fit neatly within the multitudinal layers of female pain.
Targeted for violence and degradation, Mexican women were fed up. Their fiscal importance aligned with their psychological health. Abused, beaten, raped and murdered while a country looks on with barely a glance is not living but surviving male toxicity. That was the starting point: rage. Mexican women of all ages took a day off from school and work to make a very necessary point about violence.
“We want to make visible the violence that women suffer in every space in this country. We want to punish the system” said Arussi Unda, spokeswoman for feminist collective Las Brujas Del Mar, who helped organize the strike.
As the strike took hold culturally, it was a wildfire. Women were all in, the famous and not famous, the privileged and the peasant. Companies got on board and gifted their female employees the day off. (For public relations reasons rather than true solidarity.) Punishing women for standing up for themselves- and one another- would have been catastrophic and so businesses granted women a free day to protest.
Unlike the United States, Mexico is a country where #MeToo is that tame and soft ideology blowing in the breeze that has been rejected by Mexican feminists. In Mexico, gender activism is more on par with tear the motherfu**er down rather than I Have A Dream.
Mexican feminists want results and they really don’t care who they offend or malign. Like Fannie Lou Hamer said a lifetime ago, women are sick and tired of being sick and tired. And tired of being raped and murdered.
Last August, a Mexican teenager accused four cops of raping her in their patrol car. Six days later, another teenager accused a cop of raping her in a museum. In an angry response, the teenagers supporters shouted “they don’t protect us, they rape us.” Protesters broke the door of the prosecutor and left a pig’s head. When Jesus Orta Martinez, Mexico’s security minister, tried to get control of the crowd, he was drowned in pink glitter.
Two years earlier, a Mexican couple murdered more than 20 women. And then there was the horrific case of 25 year old Ingrid Escamilla whose husband killed her than removed her skin and disemboweled her.
By definition, this is female homicide, or femicide, the intentional targeting of women in order to kill them. Femicide “deprives a woman of her life for gendered reasons.”
Women and girls make up 60% of the Mexican population, about 63 million. In a span of four years (2015–2019) 3,080 women were murdered in Mexico. 44% of Mexican women have experienced violence from a partner. 66% of women have experienced violence during their lifetime. The United Nations has called the culture in Latin America tolerant of “normalized” attacks. They look the other way.
Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, when asked about femicides during an auction, said “I don’t want femicides to overshadow the lottery.” He viewed the women’s strike as a strike against him, and partly, he wasn’t off base. It was about him in theory, his toxic masculinity that denies him the inability to have empathy for women’s violent experiences when men are the perpetrators.
“The killing of women should be a national priority” was part of an El Universal newspaper op-ed piece, written by Margarita Zavala, the wife of ex-President Felipe Calderón.
But asking women to disappear for a day is ironically antithetical to feminist ideology. Being a feminist means being present in the world, not invisible. Being loud. Showing your face. Disappearing is appeasing submission fantasies that bind men to their patriarchal ancestry.
Mexican women’s anger over femicide has the country throwing out solutions the way a vet throws out dog scraps. To avoid utter chaos they propose longer sentences for those convicted of femicide. It is a bunch of nothing since sentences are rarely deterrents. Men who target women are willing to endure long punishments. They are rebels with a cause. Start the conversation, not with adjudications, but protecting women and healing them.
In Costa Rica, femicide is punishable up to 35 years in prison. Peru designated femicide punishable with a 15 to 25 year sentence. Mexico added it as a punishable crime in 2012 but with a lot of layers. Did the victim have an emotional relationship with the suspect? Was the victim threatened, harassed, fearful? Did she suffer bodily harm? Was she mutilated before or after being killed? Was the body on display? Femicide has to disprove a positive, that men are perfectly innocent and within their masculine right to slaughter women.
Often, women homicide victims are killed by men they know. The UN’s Global Study on Homicide revealed that 82% of homicide victims targeted by their partners were women.
In 2017, 50,000 women worldwide were killed by those they knew which translated into 1.3 women per 100,000, according to the United Nations. Africa has the highest rate of murdered women at 3.1 per 100,000 women. Next is the Americas with 1.6, followed by Oceania (1.3), Asia (0.9) and Europe (0.7).
In 2017, there were 87,000 global female homicides. “The cultural and family context normalizes male violence against women. Even when women seek protection, the community or criminal justice system cannot always provide it” according to Angela Me, chief of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) research and analysis branch.
When Me was asked by Diana Cole of NPR about progress, she mentioned Latin American countries like Mexico. “Eighteen Latin American countries have established the criminal offense of femicide, the killing of a female because of her gender. This is a clear signal that this is not acceptable.”
Executive Director of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov explained “killings carried out by intimate partners are rarely spontaneous or random.”
Last year, after thousands of Mexican women were femicide murdered, Attorney General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero wanted to eliminate femicide in the penal code.
Mexico’s National Institute of Women had something to say about that.
“The definition of femicide in Mexico is the product of a social and legal battle waged by the feminist movement, civil society organizations, and relatives of murdered women for the most extreme manifestations of violence against women.”
The strike on Monday was femicide centric. It was the strike’s unexpressed theme: deja de matarnos! Stop killing us. Not surprisingly, the strike had a high participation among Mexican women and girls. Social media posts showed empty streets, stores, offices. It made a stunning point about disappearing on purpose. And yet there was something surreal about women withdrawing themselves passively to make a point about male aggression. It fit within the structure of masculine privilege, as if men had given their permission and so it was okay to strike. One male employee said, “we miss our female colleagues.”
The strike had some expected results. Hotel rooms weren’t cleaned. Beauty salons didn’t open. One male hotel employee bristled about radical feminism. Translation: anytime women force the issue and stand up for themselves, it offends so I’ll call it radical.
In schools, female teachers stayed home and so did a lot of girls. Of course they stayed home. 10 women are killed per day in Mexico.
Nos matan y no haces nada. They kill us and you do nothing.